Tag Archives: gentleness

Self-Compassion Saturday: Courtney Putnam

I am posting late today, kind and gentle reader. I went hiking with my boys this morning, a long and quiet time together, space and silence that I sorely needed. This post was waiting for me to write it, but I knew that if anyone would understand the choice to be out in the green instead, it would be my dear friend Courtney Putnam.

I haven’t actually met Courtney in person, and yet she’s one of my favorite people, a true friend. A few years ago, a piece of her art was selected for the cover of a reader being used in the English Department at Colorado State University, and the Composition Program director at the time, friends with Courtney’s mom, told me, “you and Courtney need to know each other.” We became friends on Facebook, and the connection was immediate and true. We have lots in common, but more than that, Courtney is pure magic, pure medicine, full of courage and love and joy.

Courtney describes herself this way, “Solopreneur of Rising Bird Healing Arts in Seattle, WA. Massage therapist, Reiki Master, Intrinsic Coach®, artist, writer, teacher,” a Creative Healing Artist.

I told her when she emailed her responses to these questions, “As with every interaction, every time we connect, every time you touch or encourage or inspire me or make me smile, I feel the deepest longing, make a wish that we were closer, that some day, some day…” Some day we will meet, have a long conversation over tea, but for today I am so happy to share her perspective on self-compassion with you, a thing both powerful and gentle.

courtneyom1. What does self-compassion mean, what is it? How would you describe or define it?

I love that the word “compass” is nestled in that word compassion. So is the word “passion.”  In self-compassion, the compass points to yourself; the passion for self-understanding is part of our mission. Self-compassion is self-love, self-empathy, self-mercy. Self-compassion is the act of saying YES to yourself, of sending the message “I matter,” and of experiencing self-love even when self-loathing has the louder voice.

For me, self-compassion is making room for all that I am, even with my struggles, illnesses, challenges, pain, and insecurities. Self-compassion says, “That’s okay, I still love you” to pain even when pain writes me a letter that says, “Dear Courtney, I hate you. Yours, Pain.”

TrustYourself by Courtney Putnam

TrustYourself by Courtney Putnam

2. How did you learn self-compassion? Did you have a teacher, a guide, a path, a resource, a book, a moment of clarity or specific experience?

The human body has been my primary teacher in my journey with self-compassion. The body forgives us, doesn’t hold grudges, and is constantly working to create equilibrium for us. It does this naturally, innately, and autonomically. We don’t need to ask our bodies to work on our behalf: it does so with complete humility and love.

I have been a bodywork practitioner for over eleven years, and I have had the honor of working with people and their amazing, wise, truth-telling bodies. What I have learned is that the body we inhabit knows only self-compassion and self-acceptance, even though our minds often don’t. We can be very hard on our bodies – not only in how we ask a lot out of them physically, but also in the way we think about and talk to them.  And we can ignore the messages of the body completely, which makes the body’s self-healing/self-compassion system have to work harder.

ScarMatrix by Courtney Putnam

ScarMatrix by Courtney Putnam

The body is a barometer for how we are doing and in my work I see the deep interconnection between the mind and body. Our bodies want to be acknowledged. It’s a very simple process, but sometimes hard to do because we have so many thoughts and feelings in the way – worry, anxiety, self-loathing, grief, sadness.

Here’s an example of how self-compassion is my teacher and guide during my sessions:

When there is tension or pain, I place my hands where I feel stuckness and I ask my client, “What is here?” or “What is it like for you right in this spot?”

I hear answers like,  “My grief lives here. It’s spreading like wildfire. It’s red. Burning, burning.”

I ask: “What does this spot want?  Listen.  Allow the messages to come….”

Client: “It wants air, moist cool air. It wants to cool down. It wants me to cool down. My grief needs room to breathe. It doesn’t like being contained in the fire.”

Me: “Let’s give this place cool, moist air then, okay? Imagine your next breath is cool air filling your whole chest, soothing everything.” [I place my hands on my client’s diaphragm and ribs.]

Client: [She breathes a few times. The body receives the acknowledgment of the pain, of the hot grief, the constriction — and in response to the attention and intention, the breath deepens, the heart opens. Tears flow.] “I have more room now. The red is turning green with pink on the edges.” [Another big breath surfaces naturally.]

Me: “Now what does this spot in your body have to tell you? What are you noticing?”

Client: “I hear ‘Thank you’ coming from the grief. And the grief isn’t burning through me. It’s more like it’s flowing like a river. It’s cooler, softer.” [My client’s body whole body softens.] “I also hear that I’m okay, even with this grief, right in this moment I am okay.”

LetEverythingGo by Courtney Putnam

LetEverythingGo by Courtney Putnam

The body loves to be heard and our act of listening deeply and asking what our bodies want or need to tell us is self-compassion embodied.

Compassionate transformation happens when we notice + ask what is needed + listen + breathe in what is needed.

3. How do you practice self-compassion, what does that experience look like for you?

My self-compassion practice has many incarnations, including …

… asking my body what it needs and then obliging its request

… dancing to KC and the Sunshine Band in the living room wearing sequins and feathers

… napping with  my cat Selkie (in the middle of the day, even when it is beautiful out)

courtneyandselkie

Courtney and Selkie

… crying while creating mixed media collages and listening to Sigur Ros

… writing YOU ARE OKAY in dry erase marker on my bathroom mirror

… reciting these mantras when I feel anxious: “ride the wave, it will pass” and “just be with it, don’t resist”

… saying “no” to going to an event or party

courtneygrateful4. What do you still need to learn, to know, to understand? What is missing from your practice of self-compassion, what do you still struggle with?

Oh goodness, there are oceans and caverns and mountains I still need to learn when it comes to self-compassion.  For starters, it is much easier for me to help others with self-compassion than it is to help myself.  Helping my clients, my friends and my family with self-love and self-healing comes naturally, but when it comes to my own self-nurturing, I have to work at it.  I know a lot of people in the helping professions would agree with me on this. We often give and give and neglect to receive. We can fray at the edges, feel the weight of other people’s problems, and exhaust ourselves. We neglect to ask for help or to take the time to give ourselves the same attention we give to others.  I have to be very attuned to my own body’s messages – and learn to take breaks, say “no,” or ask for support from others. As of this writing, I am giving myself a huge helping of self-compassion: I am taking a summer sabbatical from my bodywork practice to recharge, recalibrate, and soak up some self-nurturing time. I hear my body gently whispering yes yes yes.

courtneygentleI am so filled with gratitude and love for Courtney, for taking the time to share her responses, for doing the work she does, for being just who she is. As I told her, I so needed to hear her talk about the body being connected to the practice of self-compassion, and when I read this the first time, “We don’t need to ask our bodies to work on our behalf: it does so with complete humility and love,” it made me have to pause and cry a little.

To find out more about Courtney, to connect with her:

Next on Self-Compassion Saturday: Tammy Strobel.

P.S. If you didn’t see the first post in this series, you might want to read Self-Compassion Saturday: The Beginning.

Not Knowing Where to Start

This is one of those posts, kind and gentle reader, that is at this moment as much of a mystery to me as it is to you. All day I have been thinking about what I wanted to tell you, what I had to say, to share, without being sure exactly what I would write. There is a big shift happening in my life right now but it’s not entirely clear to me how this is going to work out so I haven’t formed a neat and tidy way of communicating it. All I know for sure is that I want to tell you the truth.

I finally had an appointment with my new doctor. I have been struggling with fatigue for the past few years, have hypothyroidism and a family history of diabetes, (all kinds, on both sides), am most likely perimenopausal, and don’t get enough rest. I am a highly functioning food addict who has struggled with disordered eating for 30+ years, having gained, lost, and regained the same 20 pounds at least that many times. I want to be free of it, this struggle and dis-ease. I want to be strong, healthy, and whole, with the energy and stamina necessary to do the work I long to do, to live a full life.

Things have to to change. A series of unfortunate incidents with my previous doctors made me realize that I wasn’t being cared for as well as I should be, that I needed to seek out a new perspective, someone who would view me as a whole person (not just a body) and consider all the potential healing modalities available. I chose someone who practices Integrative Medicine, which according to her, “evaluates the patient as a whole. It does not view the patient as a chronic disease, an illness, a list of medications, or a recent hospitalization–but rather as a complex being made up of physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual parts all interdependent and woven together. All of these elements are respectfully addressed in developing strategies to treat illness and more aggressively prevent disease.” Sounds great, doesn’t it?

It was good. But, we have some work to do. I have something to teach her about dealing with people who have a history of dis-ordered eating and self-loathing. For starters: don’t call them obese, no matter what the BMI chart says. And for heaven’s sake, don’t call them obese repeatedly. Call them curvy, solid, voluptuous, thick, full, well-rounded, sturdy, slightly heavier than optimal, weighted down–but don’t call them obese.

Brave Belly

I get it. I need to lose some weight. It’s the same weight I’ve been losing and gaining for years. I already knew that. I get it. It’s there, in part, because I am an incredibly sensitive and porous person, without natural thick skin or any other kind of protective barrier between myself and the energy of my environment, the suffering of every person I encounter, the meanness and brutality of life. I am easily hurt, and I eat my feelings. This in turn makes me bigger, more stable and substantial, heavier, harder to knock down, safer, calmer (at least in theory).

What she said hurt me. I’m pretty sure she thought I was confused about my situation, didn’t realize it was serious, and that this “truth” would motivate me to change. In reality, it sent me into a shame spiral. Thank goodness that same afternoon I was leaving for a retreat with Susan Piver, had a safe, supportive space to go in which to process what she’d said. I truly believe that without my practices, the support and wisdom I have access to, she would have only made things worse with that one word. I’m hoping the next time we meet, I can effectively and kindly communicate this to her so that she is better able to help the next person like me, a person who might not have the support, the tools I do to process and cope.

whole

For now, I get back to the work of educating myself. Along with Susan Piver, her support and wisdom and our shared practice, I am so grateful for the work and friendship of Rachel Cole. Both of these amazing women, (along with such writers and healers as Geneen Roth and Tara Brach), remind me to always approach myself, my struggles, with gentleness, to give myself space and compassion. In this way I can face this transition, which is going to be so difficult, with wisdom and lovingkindness–because this is so much more about loving myself than about what I do or don’t eat.

I can also count on the people in my life who love me to support me, encourage and help me, to make me smile, to laugh. Like my trainer, who after hearing what my doctor had said was extra encouraging to me when we worked out, telling me much more often than normal what a great job I was doing, (seriously, it was adorable). And my husband, who told me “we’ll figure this out, you’ll know what to do, and I’ll help you,” who loves me, is more concerned with the size of my heart and how much I love him back than a set of numbers anyway, who won’t judge me when I eat a cinnamon roll the size of my head. And my courage circle and other friends who reminded me of how much I am loved, of my real value, my truth worth. And my friends who gave me recommendations when I asked them for a kind and gentle therapist who works with dis-ordered eaters.

I can find and accept help, but more importantly I can trust myself.

Day of Rest

packagefromsusannah

I got the most precious package in the mail yesterday. It got me thinking about how grateful I am for all the amazing women in my life. This morning as I was writing in my journal, I made a list of names. It took up two full pages, and I wasn’t even done–friends and teachers and artists, women who offer support, wisdom, inspiration, and encouragement.

I have a clear vision about where my life is headed, an “exit” plan that will make my paid work and my heart’s work one and the same. I aspire to make my living, my loving teaching ecourses and workshops and retreats and “face to face” courses, blogging and writing books, maybe also offering some kind of one-on-one creative coaching or therapeutic support. Writing and yoga and meditation would be at the center of these offerings, my core practices, with the intention of bringing women into relationship with their creativity, opening their hearts to what is and who they are, and helping them to develop trust and faith in their own basic goodness–their essential wisdom, kindness, and power.

I feel so lucky that I have support and such amazing role models. The books and blogs they write, the classes and workshops and retreats they offer, the art they make, the friendship they extend, their open and tender and brave hearts. I aspire to be like them, and in so doing be more deeply and authentically me.

superhero earth necklace made by andrea scher, a gift to myself

Today I rest in honor of the essential kindness, wisdom, and power of all women. I offer my rest, my self-care, my gentleness, my joy, my mindfulness in gratitude to all those women who’ve shown me how to sink into myself, how I might love myself, and what I have to offer. They have collectively crafted a map to the center of my own heart, at the same time that they have urged me to trust myself, to make my own way.

What I’m Learning Now

Love is, above all else, the gift of oneself. ~Jean Anouih

On Thursday, I worked a lot with letting the day unfold naturally, without force or agenda. I was fatigued, worn out, and took a sick day to rest. The plague (several versions) has been circling around campus and there’s a good chance my body is doing everything it can to fight it off. I stayed in my pajamas all day, fed myself well, drank lots of grapefruit juice, watched some inspirational videos while resting on the couch, taking notes and at one point having a long nap.

The Universe is bombarding me with messages about self-love, self-care, self-acceptance. The classes I’m taking, friendships I have, things I read and see and hear make clear what I can give, what is needed. The theme is that there is only one me, I have unique gifts, a specific perspective and calling, and that I must be true to that, honor it, because that’s what I have to offer the world. And most importantly, it is not selfish to be who I am, to love what I love. In fact, it is the deepest kind of compassion, the most profound expression of wisdom.

To succeed at being somebody that you are not (but think you need to be) is still a failure. But to love who you are and courageously be that fully is a life well lived. ~Kute Blackson

I contemplated this blog post that I’m writing now all day Thursday, but made the choice to rest instead. In fact, this past week, I only posted three times, when I typically post every day, sometimes twice. Normally that would make me feel bad, less than worthy and anxious because my stats were down. For years, I’ve been singing as loud as I can, dancing as fast as I can, performing elaborate routines, begging to be noticed, to be loved and accepted, cared for and safe. I can’t do it anymore, won’t–“a life lived in order to please others ends up pleasing no one at all,” (Elizabeth Lessor).

Pleasing another person is often about avoiding the conflict that might ensue if we tell the truth about our feelings, needs, fears, and dreams. ~Elizabeth Lessor

I know I have something of value to offer, but I can’t do it from a place of exhaustion and overwhelm. When thinking about how I might do this, my heart’s work, while maintaining full-time paid work and all the other things I’m responsible for, it is clear to me that the same approach that had been so unworkable, such a failure in my old job–overwork, overwhelm, anxiety, perfection, hustling for worthiness, people pleasing but self-hating–was being carried over into this. The same method of forcing and pushing and denial.

I want to continue loving what I love, so I need to soften my approach. I need to meet this work with gentleness, kindness, and be open to joy. I need to maintain my focus on how I want to feel, the experience I want to cultivate, the process rather than a product. I need to balance my effort with ease.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. ~Howard Thurman

I also must forgive myself for all that came before. All the years of trying to be good, hoping to be perfect, imagining that if I did what others wanted and expected that I would be loved, safe, accepted. The self-denial, self-loathing, self-abandonment, self-abuse, the pushing, forcing, smashing myself to bits, and broken promises. The cycle of starving and stuffing, never satisfied. I have to also forgive myself for my confusion, my disappointment, my despair, my rage, and every action that came from that dark place. I was only trying to be who I thought I was supposed to be.

Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over people and circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are. -Anne Lamott

I’m choosing that second option, dreaming bigger, cultivating courage and rest and joy, keeping my heart open, showing up and staying with whatever might arise, and doing it all imperfectly. My wish is to leave you, this space, this planet in better condition than I found it, and to ease suffering, in myself and the world.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
~Mary Oliver

Wishcasting Wednesday

Who do you wish to give (or send) a hug?

All the vets, techs, office staff, lab technicians, etc. who helped care for Dexter, and also for Obi and Sam. May they continue to have patience and practice kindness. May their skill continue to grow and manifest.

Susan Piver, for the support she provides, to my practice and to my tender, sad heart, when she is aware of it and even when she’s not. May she continue to be confident and brave, an open-hearted warrior, a kind-hearted and wise teacher.

All the people who’ve offered their good wishes and support as we navigate whatever is going on with Dexter. My they continue to keep their hearts open and to offer help where needed.

My mom, dad, brother, and nieces, my family far away, because living 1200 miles away means I can never do this as much as I’d like to. May they be happy and safe.

The people who first rescued my dogs and cared for them until they could come home to me. May they be rescued, cared for and loved in equal measure.

The women who have helped me believe I can write, who helped me to claim my life as a writer: Cynthia Morris, Anne Lamott, Laurie Wagner, Andrea Scher, Susannah Conway, Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron, Cheryl Strayed, Susan Piver (yes, her again), Geneen Roth, Patti Digh, Jennifer Louden, Jamie Ridler, Cheri Huber, Tara Brach, my WILD writing group, my Artist’s Way group (with an extra big hug for Joyce, our facilitator), and so many more. May these women continue to tell the truth, to shine their light so I can see my way through the dark.

Anyone waiting for biopsy results, or other news that has the potential to change their life, break their hearts. May they be well.

Anyone who thinks they aren’t enough, who believes they have to earn love, who is smashing themselves to bits. May they know love, be filled with it, flooded, overwhelmed, and may they know that they are basically, fundamentally good, wise, kind, and powerful, and nothing can change that.

Anyone trapped in the confusion of their own thoughts and feelings, caught in a sense of being a victim of their life, feeling powerless, helpless, or cheated, feeling angry and hurt. May they wake up, become aware of their ability to choose, to let go of judgement, blame, and suffering. May whatever trauma is weighing them down quickly and easily dissolve.

Anyone suffering from addiction, stuck in habitual patterns and discursive, obsessive thinking that is poisoning them, their mind/heart and their body, their environment and those others in it. May they be released, set free, and may the poison turn to medicine.

Anyone who is convinced of complete despair, who is trapped, stuck, caught in darkness and depression. May they see the light and know joy.

Day of Rest

It’s more helpful to stop trying to talk ourselves out of painful feelings or force our minds to stay focused on “the positive” and simply relax by letting our thoughts and feelings be exactly as they are. Over time, relaxing with your thoughts in this way significantly alters the way your mind works. ~Susan Piver

Today, on this day of rest, I will again practice gentleness, relaxing and softening into my thoughts and feelings, just as they are, the tenderness and the terror.

Wishcasting Wednesday

image from Jamie’s post

If anything was possible, what would you wish for?

When I first thought about my answer to this question, maybe I thought too small, but then I looked back at Jamie’s post, at this picture, and rethought it from the perspective of “if pigs could fly,” which is an altogether different view.

If anything was possible my dogs would live forever, and I could bring Obi back.

If anything was possible no one would ever again lose someone they love to cancer. In fact, cancer would no longer exist, other than something to kick in the butt when you needed to get out some bad energy, wanted to break something or felt stabby.

If anything was possible those who were confused, sick, angry, sad, lost, and addicted would be whole, sane, healthy. They would remember that they are innately wise, kind, and strong, they would embody and manifest basic goodness. They would practice creation rather than destruction, rediscover that things are workable, realize joy through gratitude, and discover healthy practices to help maintain their sanity. They would heal themselves and then turn towards serving others. With open, brave hearts, they would change the world.

If anything was possible no child would ever again go to bed hungry or sick or scared. They would all be safe and well and know that they are loved. And in this way, they would grow up and make sure the same thing was true for the children who came after them.

If anything was possible there would be world peace, health and happiness for every being, no war or famine or sickness, clean water, a healthy environment.

If anything was possible for me, I would experience whole health for the rest of my long, happy life. Self-love and self-care would be my middle path, my regular practice and primary way of being. With an open, brave heart, I would first save myself and then help change the world.

If anything was possible for me, I would live the life of a writer and artist and yoga & meditation practitioner full time, with no need for paid work that wasn’t both enjoyable and easy.

If anything was possible for me, I would publish with ease, books and essays, and facilitate retreats, helping others recover and reconnect with their basic sanity and innate creativity.

If anything was possible for me, I would be able to happily and kindly follow every interest, take care of every need. I would live an entirely wholehearted life, with complete confidence and love, embodying and manifesting wisdom and kindness.

If anything was possible for me, I would be remembered for my kindness and generosity and wisdom, for being gentle and relaxed and joyful, inspiring others to be brave and do good by being brave and doing good, my whole life an offering.

*sigh*

I want to go to there…